Just What Is Spoken Word Anyway?

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This first appeared on fringebiscuit.co.uk

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In past years spoken word acts have been quite the nomads of the Edinburgh Fringe, sprinkled throughout theatre, cabaret and comedy sections without a home of their own. But this year the Fringe Society has finally put a roof over their heads, and spoken word has its very own category in the Fringe Guide.

Which begs the question: just what is spoken word anyway?

I asked George Lewkowicz, creative director of Tea Fuelled arts collective, this very question. He seemed a good man to ask, not least because I’m from Fringebiscuit and George is from Tea Fuelled and what could be a more perfect union than tea and biscuits?

Tea Fuelled are putting on four spoken word shows this year. George himself stars in Superbard Starts to Save the World, directs Lucy Ayrton’s Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry and Jack Heal’s Murderthon, and comperes the Flea Circus Open Slam. Busy fella.

This is what he had to say: ‘I would define spoken word as: a performer speaking their own words directly to the audience. Theatre often doesn’t use this direct method of address, and if it does, it’s by an actor rather than the writer themself.

‘Comedy is often a looser, less scripted form, and there’s less of an emphasis on the words and more of a focus on getting a laugh. This usually means spoken word is storytelling or poetry, and it’s often comic, but by no means exclusively so.

‘It’s a broad church and the boundaries are fuzzy, so at Tea Fuelled we think it comes down to the performers themselves; if they say they’re spoken word, they’re spoken word.’

So there you have it. It’s about where the words stem from; about the words themselves as much as the effect they have, and ultimately it’s about how the performer regards themself. Which is why it’s so wonderful that audiences now have the means to target the kind of shows they want to see, and that performers have found a place to call their own.

Spoken word performers, enjoy your new home. I love what you’ve done with the place.

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